The Cheesecake Factory 'Leads' the (Fanny) Pack at 2014 Xtreme Eating Awards
Nutrition Action Healthletter Looks at “Bruléed” French Toast, “Bottomless” Steak Fries, “Monster” Milkshakes and Other Such Innovations
Three of nine Xtreme Eating Awards for 2014 were “won” by The Cheesecake Factory, though the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest says the 150-outlet mall fixture could have easily swept the entire list. The chain’s Bruléed French Toast, a plate of custard-soaked bread, topped with powdered sugar and served with maple-butter syrup and bacon, would require one to swim laps for seven hours to burn off its 2,780 calories. The meal also has almost five days’ worth of saturated fat (93 grams), 2,230 milligrams of sodium (more than a day’s worth), and 24 teaspoons of (mostly) added sugar. To put that load of sugar into context, the American Heart Association recommends a daily limit of nine teaspoons of added sugar for men and six for women.
The Cheesecake Factory may have reformulated a few dishes in response to being named a “winner” of Xtreme Eating Awards in years past. “I was sick of winning that prize,” Cheesecake Factory founder and chief executive officer David M. Overton told the Wall Street Journal. Nevertheless, the chain still sports numerous highly qualified Xtreme contenders, including a 2,800-calorie brunch item, a 2,400-calorie pasta, and a 1,500-calorie slice of cheesecake.
“Mr. Overton may be tiring of the prize, but he’s certainly making sure that The Cheesecake Factory remains the most calorically extreme chain that we’ve seen,” said CSPI dietitian Paige Einstein.
Other winners of the 2014 Xtreme Eating Awards include:
- The Cheesecake Factory’s Farfalle with Chicken and Roasted Garlic doesn’t sound excessive and features mushrooms, tomato, peas, and caramelized onions. But cream sauce helps bring its caloric payload to 2,410 calories, the calorie equivalent of a five-hour jog, as well as three days’ worth of saturated fat (63 grams) and 1,370 mg of sodium.
- The single unhealthiest meal CSPI found came from the 470-outlet Red Robin Gourmet Burgers. It’s a “Monster”-sized A.1. Peppercorn burger, Bottomless Steak Fries, and Monster Salted Caramel Milkshake which has a grand total of 3,540 calories, three-and-a-half days’ saturated fat (69 grams), and four days’ worth of sodium (6,280 mg). CSPI estimates the dish has 38 teaspoons—almost three-quarters of a cup—of added sugar. To dispose of those calories, the average person would need to walk briskly for a full 12 hours.
- “The Big Slab” of St. Louis-Style Spareribs at Famous Dave’s yields one-and-a-half pounds of pork. Add Famous Fries, Wilbur Beans, and a Corn Bread Muffin and the meal has 2,770 calories, 54 grams of saturated fat, 4,320 mg of sodium, and 14 teaspoons of sugar. “Not planning on mowing the lawn for seven and a half hours hours after dinner? Expect the spareribs dinner to end up in your spare tire,” Nutrition Action says.
- Joe’s Crab Shack attracted CSPI’s attention in April when it discovered that the chain still used artificial trans fat in its kitchens. This wasn’t one of the meals with trans fat, but The Big “Hook” Up platter at Joe’s is one of the highest-calorie entrées CSPI has ever found. It’s a friedfoodaganza of something called Great Balls of Fire (“seafood and crab balls full of jalapeños and cream cheese coated in panko breadcrumbs … served with ranch”), Fish & Chips, Coconut Shrimp, Crab Stuffed Shrimp, Hushpuppies, and Coleslaw. The entire meal has 3,280 calories, 50 grams of saturated fat, and 7,610 mg of sodium. To burn off that many calories, one would need to play golf (without a cart or a caddie) for 11 straight hours.
“When French toast is ‘Bruléed,’ fries are ‘bottomless,’ and steaks are now garnished with not just one, but two Italian sausages, it’s clear that caloric extremism still rules the roost at many of America’s chain restaurants,” Einstein said. “Two out of three American adults are overweight or obese and one in 10 adults has diabetes, thanks in part to The Cheesecake Factory, Chevys Fresh Mex, Maggiano’s Little Italy, and much of the rest of America’s chain restaurant industry.”
Some help may soon be on the way for people who want to avoid 2,500-calorie entrées and 1,500-calorie desserts at chain restaurants. The health care reform legislation signed in 2010 contained a requirement that chains with 20 or more outlets disclose calorie counts on menus. The menu labeling regulations are being finalized by the Food and Drug Administration and the White House. When the rules go into effect, diners will easily see, for instance, that a slice of The Cheesecake Factory’s Reese’s Peanut Butter Chocolate Cake Cheesecake has 1,500 calories. (Unfortunately, the rules would not require the chain to disclose the fact that it would take four-and-a-half hours of aerobics to burn off that slice).
Nutrition Action Healthletter is published 10 times a year. Print and electronic subscriptions are available at NutritionAction.com.